As friends and family gather for the big day, and the bride and groom exchange their vows, a few uninvited guests suddenly appear.
At this ceremony, however, no one seems to mind because these wedding crashers are a school of angelfish, 12 purple Pederson shrimp, and a slipper lobster, who just happens to be swimming by.
That's the idea, anyway, behind the "wet wedding package" at the Hotel Caravelle in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. A PR campaign dreamed up by hotel owner Sid Kalmans and his longtime PR partner, Jane Watkins, the underwater wedding allows couples with a passion for the sea and with a little sense of adventure to say "I do" among the fish.
The campaign also served as an opportunity to help the Hotel Caravelle stand out from other Caribbean hotels and to generate hits and awareness for its affiliated informational website, www.GoToStCroix.com.
In 2003, the dive shop at the Caravelle put together a world-record-shattering underwater wedding for 103 guests. Watkins, a St. Croix native who worked at the dive shop as a teenager, thought the hotel could capitalize on the historic event.
"We wanted to tell people that the world record was broken down there and say, 'Hey, you can do it, too,'" she says.
The "wet wedding package" that was soon developed demonstrated the fun and creativity long associated with Kalmans, his staff, and his hotel, and the campaign behind it would push that image. Such an angle, client and firm believed, would also grab the attention of some of the specialized media members they were targeting.
"About 10% of our business is dive-related," says Kalmans. "As a way to get into the dive magazines, we wanted to do something a little different and unusual. We wanted to make a splash."
To help make that splash, a couple celebrating their 10th anniversary agreed to renew their vows underwater. A TV crew from Tampa, FL, would tape the event, and the reception would be held outside the Caravelle in front of www.GoToStCroix.com's webcam.
In the lead-up to the event, Watkins pitched the story to local media and special-interest diving, bridal, and travel publications. Word-of-mouth also helped spike interest.
On June 24, the underwater vow-renewal ceremony took place, with local newspapers in attendance. After the event, the PR team kept pitching the package and images to the media, all the way until December.
Citing the prohibitive cost of print advertising and the success of past campaigns, Kalmans says he is a firm believer in the power of PR because it provides the greatest bang for the buck. "We have run the highest occupancy on St. Croix for more than a decade, and we've had almost no print advertising," he says.
The website and webcam got 50,000 hits during the ceremony. Local press and special-interest magazines picked up the story, and the Tampa TV station that filmed the underwater ceremony aired its program a few weeks later. The story also hit nationally in the following months, with features in The Wall Street Journal in September and the November/December issue of Latitudes, the in-flight magazine of American Eagle Airlines, which services the Caribbean.
But are couples taking the Hotel Caravelle up on its offer?
"We've had quite a few inquiries, and one actual wedding booked," says Kalmans, adding that many locals have also renewed their vows.
To follow up the wet wedding campaign, Hotel Caravelle and Watkins turned their attention to new diving packages at the hotel that tie in with Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and Father's Day, and also use the web cam.
PR team: GoToStCroix.com, Hotel Caravelle (both St. Croix), and Watkins PR (Miami)
Campaign: Hotel Caravelle Wet Wedding Package
Time frame: February to December 2004